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Politics


Bummed DC isn’t a state? Here are 5 reasons local politics are still worth your time

If you live in DC, it can be pretty easy to become disenchanted with national politics—especially in this election cycle. National is the operative word, though! Here are five reasons it's worth engaging in DC's local politics, from the ballot box to the community forum.


Photo by justgrimes on Flickr.

1. Voting in DC still matters

Washington, DC attracts people from all over the country. However, even if people stay here for a number of years, a lot of them choose to hold on to the voting privileges of their home state.

The District's lack of voting representation in Congress and its three electoral votes in Presidential elections might seem like fair justification for voting in another state (even though that's technically illegal)—especially if you come from a Presidential swing state.

But doing so deprives you of power in DC's local elections for Mayor, City Council, ANCs, and more. Though they may not be on national news every day, the people sitting in those positions make decisions that are much more likely to impact your day-to-day life and shape the city you live in.

Many local elections—particularly for ANC, where the candidate may very well be your nextdoor neighbor—are won by only a handful of votes, which means a single vote can have much more sway locally than in even the most competitive swing states.

DC even makes registering to vote relatively easy. Most of the registration process can be done online, and there's even same-day registration if you provide nearly any kind of documentation.

2. Important referendums are coming up

In fact, the coming months may prove to be one of the most consequential times to be a DC voter.

Just last week, Mayor Bowser announced a plan to put the question of DC statehood up to a vote. While the fight for statehood is decades-long, the idea is now gaining new momentum: the DC government's has strongly asserted budget autonomy over Congress, and national support for statehood is at an all time high. Though the struggle is far from over, there is no doubt that a plebiscite this year on statehood would be significant.

In addition, the path is now clear for a vote this November on a $15 minimum wage, the results of which will have a lasting impact on the district's labor force and economy.

3. You can be an expert

Issues in national politics can sometimes be extremely complicated. Wonks and academics spend lifetimes studying things like healthcare or foreign policy, while partisans spend lifetimes reframing them.

There's also a learning curve to local politics, but many people who have no background can become fluent much more quickly. After all, it tends to be easier to understand the ins and outs of an issue when it involves the people around you, the sidewalks you walk on, the schools in your backyard, and so on. A good place to start are many of the local and hyper-local blogs on the sidebar of this very site.

The other thing about DC is that relatively speaking, it's a small town. You can get to know political lineage, like Muriel Bowser coming up under Adrian Fenty and now Brandon Todd under Bowser, and the history is both accessible and fascinating (think Dream City). Also, the Washington City Paper has a reporter dedicated to the local beat, and there are lots of blogs that can help give you a complete understanding of what's happening in DC.

4. Meeting your neighbors

Getting involved in local politics is a good way to make new friends who care about the same things as you. Even when you disagree with folks on issues, you often find out that you share a lot in common.

Because of my attendance at events like the DDOT Crosstown Study and Ward 1 shelter meetings, I've gotten to know a few of my direct neighbors—folks I most likely wouldn't have gotten to meet otherwise. Especially if you're new to the city or just new to a neighborhood, involving yourself in the local and hyper-local level is a stellar opportunity to interact with people around you while learning about the issues that impact you.

5. You can make a difference

The biggest, most important reason to get involved in local politics: you matter. The number of donors, activists, and voters in local elections (even those in large cities) is small, both in raw terms and percentage terms. Your voice, your volunteer time, and your campaign donations matter. Organize 50 people for a presidential rally and you have a poorly-attended rally for media to laugh at; organize 50 people for a local organization and you have a powerful force for Council Members to pay attention to.

So if change is what you want, turn your eyes local, get out there, and make it happen!

A version of this post originally ran on Austin on your Feet.

Politics


A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall

Arlington businessman Erik Gutshall has thrown his hat in the ring for the county board democratic primary, challenging incumbent Board member Libby Garvey.


Erik Gutshall. Image from his campaign.

A resident and former civic association president of Lyon Park, it would be easy for Gutshall to sit back and hope that the democratic electorate punishes Garvey for endorsing independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 election to the county board. The result there was the death of the Columbia Pike streetcar along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes deciding not seek re-election.

Gutshall, however, views his race as more a referendum on the future of Arlington than one on Garvey's actions in office.

"Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?," he said in an interview with Greater Greater Washington. According to Gutshall, Garvey told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative."

Gutshall has Planning Commission roots

Gutshall is a proponent of smart growth. He has worked on the Arlington County Planning Commission for almost three years and understands how important it is to develop urban, mixed-use districts, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that is known nationally as a prime example of transit oriented development.

He has also been a member of a number of local committees, ranging from the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study Task Force to the Site Plan Review Committee involved with Clarendon area projects.

Gutshall says that his background provides him with a solid understanding of how to balance urban planning with economic development, noting that the latter drives the ability to effectively accomplish the former. Without urban planning, he says, Arlington could end up a developer-driven, auto-oriented suburb like Tysons Corner.

He also believes smart growth is connected to all of the other issues that affect Arlington. For example, on the issue of Arlington county schools, Gutshall says "it is important to incorporate school development into long-range land use and transportation planning."

"We have to look at how many students a density plan will result in and how transportation systems would address this," he says. "We have to be forward thinking, rather than just coming up with short-term solutions."

When it comes to housing costs, Gutshall points out that Arlington has done a great job keeping single-family homes while encouraging high-rise development. However, it has not accomplished its goal of building intermediate housing—something he calls the "missing middle"—for those who earn between 80% and 120% of area median income (AMI), he says.

In order to attract the best employees for the new Arlington business climate, Gutshall advocates for market rate housing alongside housing affordability. Although Arlington has seen a decline in commercial high-rise occupancy, it continues to push forward in becoming a hub for technology and health-oriented small- and medium-size businesses even as it faces stiff competition from other developing communities, such as Tyson's Corner.

He's also a local business owner

Gutshall brings a unique background of both business—he owns the home improvement contractor business Clarendon Home Servicesand civic engagement to the county board race. He hopes this background will help address some of the major issues that resulted in former county board member Alan Howze's loss to Vihstadt in 2014.

The Arlington County Board frequently gets criticism that it ignored the concerns of residents, and Gutshall points to his successful business as reason to believe he would help reverse that course—losing the trust of customers, the thinking goes, is a costly endeavor.

Transportation is on Gutshall's radar

Gutshall says widening I-66 is not consistent with smart growth. He says the original compromise, which would have delayed widening 66 for at least five years until multi-modal improvements have a chance to reduce congestion, was a good deal. He doesn't think so about the more recent regional compromise announced in February, in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will build a third lane in each direction on the interstate to Fairfax Drive inside the Beltway. In exchange, outer-suburb legislators will support the governor's plan to convert the current peak-direction HOV-2 operation to HOT-2 lanes.

Gutshall notes that Arlington will have a seat at the table and be able to use toll revenue to develop other modes of transportation, like bike trails, bus service, and Metro.

Arlington has long opposed widening I-66 inside the beltway, favoring instead more of the alternative transportation options Gutshall mentions.

One thing Gutshall says he would do if elected to the council is push for Arlington to have an advanced transportation system, though he's not firm on exactly what that system would look like. This would undoubtedly include some form of improvements along the Columbia Pike corridor, though he agrees that the streetcar there is dead.

Correction: The original version of this post said that Gutshall supported the most recent I-66 widening deal. He emailed us to clarify that he supported a previous agreement, but that he sees the recent regional compromise as "short-sighted and disappointing."

Politics


Why Montgomery County school board is the race to watch in 2016

Montgomery County school board elections are usually pretty sleepy. But as the county's once-vaunted schools struggle to serve a more diverse population, the "achievement gap" is causing this year's race to heat up.


Montgomery County students marched to protest the achievement gap, which is an election year issue.

Montgomery County Public Schools has grown rapidly in recent years, but has also become more segregated by race and class. Student performance is slipping, particularly in schools with a concentration of minority and low-income students. School officials have been reluctant to address the problem or even admit that it exists.

Schools make up half of the county's $5 billion annual budget, and the teachers' union's coveted "Apple Ballot" endorsements have had a big influence on local elections. But that's changed as the school system's performance has slipped. Jill Ortman-Fouse won a seat on the board in 2014 after campaigning to reform the system; three months later, superintendent Josh Starr resigned when he realized a majority of the board no longer supported renewing his contract.

Meet the candidates

There are three open seats this year, but two of them have two candidates, who will both go on to the general election in November. But a three-way race has formed for the at-large seat between incumbent Phil Kauffman, retired principal Jeanette Dixon, and former teacher and student board member Sebastian Johnson. One Montgomery, the school equity group I helped start, interviewed all three. (Full disclosure: we've endorsed Johnson.)

Kauffman, lives in Olney and was a PTA activist before joining the board in 2008. His wife teaches at Blake High School, which both of his daughters also graduated from (more disclosure: I was friends with them in high school). He ran as a reformer in 2008, calling for greater transparency in budget decisions and changes to the middle school curriculum. At the time, he said the school board was too cozy with the superintendent and needed to be more independent. Two terms later, he defended keeping Starr as superintendent, and as president of the board in 2014, he joined Starr in threatening to cut programs for high-needs students if the school system didn't get a $15 million budget increase.

Dixon, who lives in East County, is familiar with the challenges facing the county's majority-minority, high-poverty schools. She was principal at Paint Branch High School (and before that, my principal at White Oak Middle School) before retiring three years ago. Since then, she's been an outspoken critic of the school system and proponent of big ideas. At a League of Women Voters forum on the achievement gap last fall, she said that students should be allowed to attend any high school in the county, regardless of where they live.

In January 2015, she published an open letter blasting Starr, calling him ineffective and saying he only cared about "protecting the MCPS brand." The letter may have helped turn public support away from him. (Inside sources say Starr has been quietly campaigning against her, calling her "dangerous" for the school system.) She's refused endorsements from elected officials, but has a long list of testimonials from faculty she's worked with and former students.

Johnson argues he can provide a new perspective to a board where members are often shut down for going against the grain. At 27, he's by far the youngest candidate, and describes himself as proof that schools can close the achievement gap. A former teacher and student member of the board, he grew up in a single-parent household in Takoma Park before attending Georgetown, Harvard, and the London School of Economics.

The Takoma Park resident talks about the "intersectionality" of schools and factors outside the classroom, pointing out that students can't learn if their families can't afford health care or stable, decent housing. He wants more "wraparound services" like health centers at schools, while increasing minority student access to the county's largely segregated magnet programs. He hopes his existing relationships with county councilmembers can smooth the often adversarial relationship the board has with other county agencies.

Here's the outlook

While Kauffman and Dixon have long histories in the county, and Dixon may most reflect voters' frustration, it seems like Johnson has the most momentum. He's raised over $20,000 (though his campaign stresses that most donations are small), an anomaly when most school board races are won for half that and incumbents barely raise money at all. He's gotten endorsements from several elected officials, including county councilmembers George Leventhal (who he once interned for) and Nancy Navarro (who he served with on the school board), and state delegate Marc Korman.

Kauffman's tried to pull support from his two black opponents by getting endorsements from black electeds like County Executive Ike Leggett, state delegate Al Carr, and county councilmember Craig Rice. But Rice has also publicly made glowing remarks about Johnson, saying, "We need more young people like Sebastian to step up and keep our county moving forward." Board of Education member Judy Docca, who also endorsed Kauffman, donated money to Johnson's campaign.

Normally, the Montgomery County Educators Association (the teachers' union) endorses the incumbent, almost guaranteeing their reelection. But they didn't endorse Kauffman or anyone else, suggesting that the union's members are split.

That may reflect a broader disagreement about the school system. Kauffman's supporters (like Starr's supporters) might argue that while things aren't perfect, the current leadership is doing a pretty good job. Dixon's and Johnson's supporters have a growing body of evidence to say that Montgomery County schools aren't doing enough to serve an increasingly diverse student body. If the 2014 election is a sign, this argument might be gaining ground.

Politics


A chat with DC Council candidate Robert White

Robert White, previous counsel to congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, is challenging at-large incumbent Vincent Orange for his seat on the DC Council in the democratic primary this June. He has some "out of the box" ideas on housing affordability, economic opportunity and transportation for DC.


Robert White (right). Image from the candidate.

White joined the at-large race in late 2015, months after opponent David Garber announced his campaign. In a recent interview with Greater Greater Washington, he points to his legislative and work experience, and the support network he built during his at-large campaign in 2014 when he finished fourth in a pack of 15.

"Our campaign in 2014 left people with, I think, a positive feeling about me and so we have a very good start this time around," he says.

White has a self-described out-of-the-box approach to many of DC's challenges, including housing affordability, economic opportunity, and transportation.

On housing affordability: it's personal

"[My father] stretched every dollar to send me to a Catholic school to give me opportunities that he didn't have but, as DC got more and more expensive, he couldn't afford to hang in there," says White. "Now my father, who is the proudest Washingtonian you would ever meet, looks at DC from his balcony in Prince George's County."

While it may not get his father back into the District, White presents a three-facet approach to addressing the issue of affordability: enforcing inclusionary zoning requirements, studying additional residential development in underperforming commercial corridors, and transforming underutilized downtown commercial space into housing.

"I'm going to enforce the inclusionary units for new developments," he says on the first point. "We can't keep letting people off the hook and not building affordable housing when we do these developments."

Asked for examples of developments that skirted the requirements, White says there are "many" and points to the "massive new buildings" that are going up in booming neighborhoods like Navy Yard and NoMa.

"I don't think that there is a percentage of affordable housing that is sufficient for the size of those developments," he says.

On his second point, White says underperforming corridors along sections of Georgia Avenue NW and Martin Luther King Jr Avenue SE, for example, could benefit from added housing, both new development and additional dwelling units on existing properties.

"We have to look at all ways to increase housing options in order to push down the cost of housing," he says, emphasising that any additional housing in these areas would be dependent on neighborhood support.

Councilmember Orange sponsored a bill that would prohibit pop-ups or other accessory dwelling units in April 2015. More recently, he proposed building 1,000 600 square foot houses across DC for young buyers, which has been criticized by many.

"The incumbent is running around talking about a gimmick solution to affordable housing, while real people are losing their house by the day for developments that they won't realistically be a part of when they're done," says White. "I think that it's time we start to take these issues with the seriousness that they deserve."

To his third point, White sees underutilized commercial buildings in downtown as opportunities to build more transit-oriented housing in the center of the District.

In addition to his three-pronged plan to add housing in the District, White also believes in preserving existing affordable housing. He says it's more difficult to to build new affordable units than keep them.

On economic opportunity: local business

White wants to see more opportunities for local residents through encouraging and supporting local business rather than big corporations like Walmart.

"I'd like to see a more targeted approach, where we are tying DC tax dollars to local businesses that can provide the amenities and services that neighborhoods need specifically, and always contingent on hiring DC residents and serving those communities," he says.

This complements his idea to add housing in underperforming corridors around the District. More residents could generate more economic activity for local businesses in these areas.

White criticizes the DC government's deal with Walmart to build two stores east of the Anacostia that fell apart in January.

"A large part of how Walmart got support in this city was by promising fresh food options in an area of the city that was starved for it," he says. "But I don't think we needed Walmart in order to accomplish that. If we incentivise businesses to go where they are not necessarily going organically, we can accomplish that same goal using local businesses."

"There are plenty of people, residents in Wards 7 and 8, that would jump at the chance to be a business owner and part of the solution in their own communities," says White.

On transportation: prioritize a reliable, multimodal network

Metro's poor reliability, fixing potholes and creating a unified bike lane network are tenets of White's transportation vision for the District.

"The capital city, I think, can do much better than an increasingly unreliable rail system, congested streets that are full of potholes and fragmented bike lanes," he says. "All reliable modes of transportation have to be prioritized."

Returning to his support for local business, White uses his neighborhood of Brightwood Park as an example of an area that could benefit from more reliable transit, like a Circulator bus line, for both residents and to bring more potential customers to the section of upper Georgia Avenue.

"We have an opportunity to both attack our transportation infrastructure needs to solve, not only our transportation problem, but also as a job training and career programme," he says. "We have a win-win if we're willing to prioritize it."

While White talks about a unified bike lane network, he skirts the controversy over the proposed north-south protected bike lane between 5th Street NW and 9th Street NW. A number of churches along 6th Street NW have come out against the lane, elevating the issue to one of affordability, gentrification, and changing neighborhoods.

"I think we can build a safe and reliable bike network without displacing people or making them feel like they're not part of the city's priorities," he says when asked about the controversy. "So we have to keep working."

Politics


Vince Gray could win a seat on the DC Council if he decides to run, a poll says

If former mayor Vince Gray decides to make a political comeback, he'd be very likely to unseat either Vincent Orange for an at-large seat on the DC Council or Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, according to a new poll.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Former Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies raised money for a citywide poll. Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,569 people likely to vote in the June Democratic primary, including 407 in Ward 7, using an automated telephone system where people press buttons in response to questions.

Would Orange challengers split the vote (again)?

For the at-large seat, incumbent Vincent Orange is expected to run for re-election. Two challengers, David Garber and Robert White, have announced candidacies to beat him, and both have good ideas for the future of DC, but there's a significant danger that both could split the vote from similar constituencies.

Orange has often pursued a divisive strategy in his races of playing on fears from some "old DC" voters and communities against newcomers. This has certainly left him vulnerable: only 28% of voters citywide see him favorably.

The City Paper's Will Sommer thinks vote splitting will happen, giving Orange another term, should Gray not run in that race. It's still somewhat unclear what would happen in that situation; the poll only asked about a field that also included Busboys and Poets restaurateur and recent mayoral candidate Andy Shallal.

In that scenario, if the primary were held today, Orange would get 28% of the vote, Shallal 19%, Garber 8%, and White 7%. However, most voters don't know Garber or White, with more than three-quarters having no opinion of either.

If Gray were to run, he leads the pack with 32% of voters, versus 20% for Orange, 10% for Garber, and 6% for White. (It might just be a statistical fluke, but this suggests some Shallal voters would go to Garber.)

The clear question is how this could change over the course of a campaign. Is about a third of the vote a ceiling for Gray, who won about that percentage of the vote in the 2014 mayoral primary? And would that be enough anyway in a split field? Would Garber or White gain Gray voters, or Gray win some Orange voters, or other combinations?

For the Ward 7 seat, Gray polled 48% to Alexander's 32%. Gray had higher name recognition and favorable ratings than Alexander, though Alexander's favorables are much better than Orange's.

You can read all of the citywide and Ward 7 results here.

Were writers and prosecutors unfair to Gray?

The poll also asked if people think federal investigators or the media treated Gray fairly or unfairly. Generally, black voters were much more likely to say that Gray was treated unfairly.

Count me in the minority of white voters who think Gray was treated unfairly by prosecutors. We might still not know for certain everything that happened in the illegal 2010 "shadow campaign," but the US Attorney's office absolutely became a player in the 2014 election by announcing suspicions of Gray weeks before the primary.

I spoke to some voters outside polling places at the primary, and many knew virtually nothing about the race except that they wanted to vote for whoever would beat Gray. Unfortunately, they generally didn't know a thing about Gray's own policy positions and views.

He consistently supported efforts to give residents more transportation choices, including better bus service, a stronger Metro system, bike infrastructure, and safe places to walk. He pushed for new housing to welcome new residents and keep room for long-time ones, even suggesting targeted changes to the federal height limit to create areas like Paris' La Défense near the Anacostia River.

It's hard to say if the media really treated Gray unfairly. Some columnists and editorial writers who were fans of Adrian Fenty never forgave Gray for beating him. On the other hand, nobody could expect the press to ignore a scandal so serious as the shadow campaign. I think most media coverage did concentrate too much on personalities rather than on the issues that really affect life in DC.

Many people saw him as just being the anti-Adrian Fenty and a return to some things they didn't like about Marion Barry, but Gray continued most of Fenty's policies. He did better in some spheres and worse in others. Certainly, the streetcar project was not executed well, and past and future transportation directors like Emeka Moneme, Gabe Klein, and Leif Dormsjo were more effective than Gray's pick of Terry Bellamy.

But Gray was also an exemplary council chair, perhaps the best in some time. I'd like Muriel Bowser to have a chance to demonstrate her vision and governing ability before there's too much talk about the 2018 mayoral race; so far, her cabinet has been very high-quality (with a few exceptions). But if Vincent Gray were to return to the DC Council, residents who want to see DC move forward boldly but inclusively would have a lot to cheer.

Note: The Greater Greater Washington Editorial Board has not yet chosen to endorse any candidates for the 2016 election. This post is David Alpert's personal opinion as Greater Greater Washington's founder.

Politics


Arlington's naysayer-in-chief is now its chair. Will she move the county forward?

Two years ago, Libby Garvey was the lone voice on the Arlington County Board opposing most of the county's major capital projects. On January 1, she was elected the board's chair.


Garvey. Image from Arlington County.

Garvey has spent most of the last two years being most vocal about what she was against. We're familiar with her opposition to the controversial Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, but that was only the most visible such campaign.

The streetcar represented a compromise among unattainable ideals. Metro is too expensive to build under Columbia Pike, and a dedicated bus or rail lane is not physically possible. Yet the street is reaching the limit of what more and larger buses could achieve, making some higher-capacity transit solution necessary.

Not being able to offer high speeds, however, made the project's costs look less worthwhile, and Garvey led the fight against the project, even going to Richmond to try to talk Virginia officials out of sending state money to Arlington County.

This was always about much more than the streetcar

Garvey's opposition fit into a broader backlash against the Democratic Party establishment in Arlington. A disaffected group including Peter Rousselot, a former county party chairman who formed the anti-streetcar group, Garvey, and John Vihstadt attacked the county board's actions and spending, sometimes fairly, sometimes deceptively.

Some residents were frustrated with ways the county government had been unresponsive and non-transparent. Others wanted to see a more conservative shift amid a period of economic difficulty, where sequestration and BRAC cut incomes and removed federal jobs.

Rousselot, later joined by Garvey, waged a campaign against county spending with high-profile projects like the Artisphere in Rosslyn or an aquatic center in Long Bridge Park. The streetcar was the biggest fight, and Rousselot's group won over some voters who genuinely didn't support it after weighing the pros and cons, but also fooled many others with impractical comparisons to imaginary, unrealistic "alternatives."

What's next, for Garvey and for Arlington?

A year after the county board suddenly reversed course and canceled the streetcar, the county's current vision is drastically less ambitious than it was five or ten years ago. The only ideas for transportation in Garvey's public statements thus far are small-scale bus improvements like letting people pay the fare before boarding and having signals give them more green time—potentially valuable, certainly, but ultimately likely to have minor impact at best on Columbia Pike's and Crystal City's transit capacity needs.

Garvey has also started criticizing county officials for not moving faster to implement these, even though it was clear when the streetcar was canceled that it would take time to replace a transportation project decades in the making.

A big part of the reason for choosing rail, with its concomitant costs, was to drive significant new development to Columbia Pike, to make it the next booming corridor like (though somewhat more modest than) Rosslyn-Ballston. The plan also used the revenue from this development to pay for large quantities of new and preserved affordable housing.

People can debate whether the streetcar would have done this, or that the reason it's not happening now isn't because of the economy instead, but right now the idea that Columbia Pike will ignite into the county's next big growth area (while protecting lower-income residents) seems distant.

The rhetoric from Arlington used to be one of great vision—that Arlington could grow substantially without adding traffic, could use transit to enormously improve people's mobility and reduce car dependence, and could provide first-class public services to make the county a top place to live. Now the talk at the county board is mostly about customer service, civic participation, and sign regulations—again, all valuable, to be sure, but without big ideas.

It's not just Arlington. There has been a similar trend in many jurisdictions around the region to shrink our ambition and work on little things. But this isn't the kind of thinking that propelled Arlington to transform itself when Metro arrived.

Garvey gains an opponent

Perhaps the coming year will offer opportunities for Arlingtonians to choose a vision once more. Planning Commission member Erik Gutshall has announced he will challenge Garvey for the Democratic nomination in June.

Gutshall said he wants "to engage our community in a forward-looking vision for Arlington." We can look forward to hearing more about what kind of vision he might have in mind. Meanwhile, Garvey will have a few months to start articulating some vision of her own.

It's always easier to criticize the work of others than to get something done yourself. Denouncing the county's work from the sidelines helped Garvey get into office and elect some allies. This year will be a chance for her to demonstrate she can also lead—or have this turn at the chair be her last.

Politics


For Alexandria and Arlington elections: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey

Many residents of Arlington and Alexandria watched Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate, but there's an election coming up much sooner which will have a major impact on life in those Northern Virginia localities.

Virginia voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect representatives in local county or city offices and state legislature. In the local races in Arlington and Alexandria, Greater Greater Washington endorses Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey for Arlington County Board and recommends writing in Bill Euille for mayor of Alexandria.


Left to right: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey. Images from the candidate websites.

Arlington County Board

In Arlington, incumbents Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada both decided not to run for their seats on the five-member board this year, shortly after the other three members voted to cancel the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Democratic nominee Katie Cristol stands out as the strongest on urbanism. In Friday's debate, she expressed strong support for a better transit network, protected bikeways, and allowing the county to grow.

Christian Dorsey, the other Democratic nominee, is clearly a step behind Cristol on transportation and growth but far ahead of the other two. (Voters will vote for two candidates for two seats.) He supports better transit, but is nervous about transit-oriented development without high parking requirements and doesn't yet understand the need for protected bicycle infrastructure.

Dorsey also has support from Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, two members of the county board who won office largely by telling voters in the most affluent parts of the county that they shouldn't have to pay to build transportation and recreation infrastructure for anyone else. However, this doesn't mean he will take a similar approach, and he seems open to learning from his colleagues on the board and people in Arlington. He's also clearly superior to the other two options, Audrey Clement and Mike McMenamin.

Clement thinks Arlington has grown too much and doesn't want to build more bike trails. McMenamin doesn't want more density either because it could add to traffic (not realizing that Arlington has grown without making traffic worse), thinks adding more parking is more important than better transit, and would only consider bike infrastructure in the context of how it would affect drivers.

To make an endorsement, Greater Greater Washington polls our regular contributors and makes an endorsement when there is a clear consensus. Here's what some of our contributors had to say:

  • Cristol is great on transit—understanding the need for supporting non-work trips to really enable car-free and car-lite living. She has actual concrete suggestions on improving Columbia Pike bus service. She understands and talks about the economic benefits of cycling infrastructure and supports the expansion of protected bike lanes. She's the best candidate in the bunch.
  • [Cristol and Dorsey] have a firm commitment to affordable housing, without Audrey Clement's anti-intensification NIMBYism.
  • Clement just doesn't know how cities work and many of her proposed policies are way too proscriptive and busy-bodyish. McNemamin is one of those who sees everything as waste but wants to widen 66 and make parking easier.
  • I know Katie Cristol and she is a pleasure to work with. She seems to be the most in line with smart growth ideals than any of the candidates. Dorsey seems OK and better on the issues than the two other candidates, though his positions seem a bit more qualified.
Alexandria mayor

In Alexandria, there is only one candidate for mayor on the ballot, but there's a hotly contested race nonetheless that will determine the city's path for years to come. Alison Silberberg narrowly won the Democratic primary by 321 votes over incumbent mayor Bill Euille, but only because Kerry Donley played the role of spoiler, competing for the same base of voters as Euille.

Now, Euille is running as a write-in candidate, hoping the large majority of Alexandrians who supported him or Donley (who has endorsed his write-in candidacy) will help him defeat Silberberg.

As mayor, Euille has generally supported a vision of a growing, active, urban Alexandria which welcomes people getting around on foot or by bicycle. Silberberg, meanwhile, is running hard as the anti-change candidate who will stop Alexandria's growth and design the city entirely around the automobile.

Here are our contributors:

  • Bill Euille supports the development that Alexandria needs both in Old Town and at Potomac Yard. Silberberg represents a contingent who act as if Alexandria is "full" and unable to grow.
  • Alexandria's forward progress on cycling and the Potomac Yard Metro station have both come during Euille's tenure.
  • Euille understands how municipal budgets work. He is a big supporter of economic development and smart growth. He is leading the way for a Potomac Yard infill metro station, and has supported transit corridors and improved bicycle and pedestrian ways.
  • Silberberg basically doesn't understand that you can't lower taxes and vote "no" on growth while still providing needed infrastructure, supporting the schools, helping the elderly, funding affordable housing, and preserving every brick more than 50 years old.
This election matters a lot for the future of Alexandria. If you live there, we hope you will write in Bill Euille.

Alexandria council

There are six at-large councilmembers besides the mayor. Incumbents John Chapman, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg, and Justin Wilson are running for re-election. There is also one open seat, the one Silberberg now holds.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee sent a questionnaire to the candidates, and heard back from Chapman, Lovain, and Wilson, as well as Monique Miles and Townsend "Van" Van Fleet.

Even many of our contributors have not followed this race intensely, and so there were not enough votes to make an endorsement. However, of those who did, there was praise for the five incumbents, particularly Lovain and Wilson.

Here's what they said:

  • Chapman: Good thinker, came out with small business initiatives, supports growth around Metro.
  • Lovain: transportation expert; head of TPB next year. Supported streetcars and high capacity transit.
  • Pepper: This vote is for experience more than anything. She knows how government works, and has her ear finely tuned to citizen "wants." She can craft a compromise if needed to help a project move forward.
  • Smedberg: For good government, fiscal responsibility, economic development, and environmental stewardship.
  • Wilson: The brain of the City Council. He knows the ins and outs of every budget line item; can talk for hours on transportation, schools, budgets; has all the facts at his fingertips.
  • Lovain and Wilson are the strongest supporters of Complete Streets, transit-oriented development and Capital Bikeshare. Wilson is also quick to give realistic answers to questions raised by the public, and often gets heat for it because residents don't always like the answers. During recent "add/delete" budget sessions, Lovain has led the charge for funding Complete Streets.
  • Wood and Van Fleet are basically disgruntled about the waterfront plan and don't have anything positive to offer.
Polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm. You can vote absentee in both Arlington and Alexandria until 5 pm Saturday, October 31, including if you will be working or commuting most of the day Tuesday.

Virginia has vote suppression laws that require voters to have a photo ID; if you don't have one, you can get a voter-only one on Election Day at the Arlington to Alexandria elections office on Election Day (or an earlier weekday).

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